By Hasan Suroor LONDON: Ignoring protests from secular groups and Opposition parties, the British Government has decided to go ahead with plans to make incitement to religious hatred an offence. A bill to this effect was introduced in the Commons amid fears among writers, satirists and rights activists that it would stifle free speech, but leaders of Hindu and Muslim groups welcomed it saying they needed protection against attacks on temples and mosques. Currently, the law protects ethnic groups against racial hatred but there is no protection against incitement on religious grounds. The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill seeks to ban “hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.” A breach of the proposed law would be punishable by fine or a prison term. Novelists Hanif Kureishi and Monica Ali joined the chorus of criticism against the bill calling it a recipe for self-censorship. “What I’m certain of is the damage to freedom of speech that will come about as a result of self-censorship – it already exists and will be dramatically increased,” said Ms. Ali, the Bangladeshi-born author of Brick Lane. “Invitation To Censorship” Mr. Kureishi, who is of Pakistani origin, feared that the bill would “stifle” even legitimate criticism of religion. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said despite its “good intentions, the move was an invitation to “censorship”. But spokesmen for the Hindu Council and the Muslim Council of Britain said such a law was needed in a climate where religious groups were often targets of attack. ? The Home Office Minister Paul Goggins sought to allay fears that it would curb freedom of expression saying it would not stop debate on religion or prevent people from “poking fun” at religion as feared by satirists and comedians.
By Adam Blenford A Muslim preacher jailed for nine years after he urged his followers to rise up and kill the “enemies of Islam” lost an appeal against his conviction today, but had his sentence cut by two years. Jamaican-born Abdullah el-Faisal, 39, a former preacher at Brixton mosque in south London, encouraged his followers to kill Jews, Americans and non-believers in a series of inflammatory speeches and recordings. He told schoolboys that they would spend eternity in paradise with 72 virgins if they fought and died in a jihad, or holy war. El-Faisal was sentenced to seven years for soliciting murder and a further two years for inciting racial hatred at the Old Bailey last March. His sentences were to run concurrently. The judge recommended that el-Faisal, of Stratford, east London, be deported at the end of his sentence. The ground-breaking trial was the first prosecution of a Muslim cleric in this country.